How would you like your eggs? (Part 1)


Sometimes a photographer gets lucky and the shot of a lifetime appears right before her eyes.  Most of the time, however, it takes a great deal of planning, patience, and hard work to get that perfect shot.  I recently returned from the Philippines where I planned to find and photograph creatures that were brooding eggs.  I was fairly lucky, as I found so many beasties with eggs, that I will have to split this post in to two parts!  The images that follow are a combination of luck, patience, planning, and even a little courage and prayer.

Anemone Fish Eggs

Anemone Fish Eggs

Truly, anemone fish make the most beautiful babies!  It turns out that those cute little Nemos are fiercely protective of their brood.  I was bitten at least four times as I got in close to photograph the nest.  Fortunately for me, anemone fish have small mouths, and I was wearing a wetsuit, so it was all in good fun.  (At least from my perspective)

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In contrast to a nest of tiny anemone fish eggs, is this relatively huge (about the size of a marble) cuttlefish egg.  The interesting thing about this egg is that the cuttlefish inside is nearly developed and ready to hatch.  What a roomy apartment he has!

Clownfish Eggs

Clownfish Eggs

Surprisingly, the colorful Clownfish produces rather plain children.  In the image above, an isopod is attempting to feed on one of the eggs.

Jawfish with eggs

Jawfish with eggs

The Jawfish above has eggs that are new.  She carries the eggs in her mouth and lives in a tunnel in the sand.  The Jawfish below has eggs that are more developed.  You can begin to see the eyes of her babies appearing.  This jawfish tested my patience as I waited nearly forty-five minutes for her to poke her head out of her hole.  When she finally did, it was only to pull a piece of coral over the opening so I couldn’t see her anymore.  I guess I wasn’t welcome.

Jawfish with eggs

Jawfish with eggs

I hunted for this cardinal fish for several days.  They typically stay in a school just hovering under a ledge or table coral.  In the school, there will be one fish that has a triangular shaped jaw and that is the one that is brooding the eggs in it’s mouth.  Once spotted, I had to wait for the fish to aerate the eggs so I could take a photograph.  They move the eggs around in their mouth which causes them to extrude a little.  This process only lasts a few seconds, so I was only able to get one shot.  This fish’s eggs are new and yolky.  They have not developed eyes yet.

Cardinal fish with eggs

Cardinal fish with eggs

Of course, the beautiful Mandarin fish deserve an encore for their mating dance.  Their eggs are not brooded, but simply float into the water column, or settle down into the coral.

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–To be continued…  Please stay tuned for part-two of this post which will focus on invertebrates and crustaceans with eggs!

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The Beautiful Mandarin Dragonet


One of the most singular and sublime experiences I had in the Philippines was watching a pair of Mandarin dragonets do their mating dance.  These tiny fish live among the hard coral reef and spend the majority of their life hiding from predators.  However, in the evening, their instinct for procreation takes over and a fantastic show begins.   This show is only a few seconds long, and may happen only a few times each evening, before the mandarin retire for the night.

A Mandarin Pair begin their spawning ritual

A Mandarin Pair begin their spawning ritual

I arrived on the reef about a half an hour before sunset.  We searched the reef for a few minutes until we found several Mandarin fish swimming through the corals.  This is where I waited, silently and patiently, for the show to begin.

The Mandarin fish begin their slow ascent

The Mandarin fish begin their slow ascent

As I was watching, I noticed a larger (female) Mandarin, and about five smaller (male) Mandarine fish.  They greeted each other deep in the coral.  I waited until just after dusk, for the female to begin her dance with the first male.  Slowly the pair began to ascend, bodies pressed together, above the hard coral.

Continuing to ascend

Continuing to ascend

They only came up a few inches before they suddenly shot back downward into the coral.

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The female ejects her eggs

 Just as the pair began their retreat, the female ejected her eggs, and the male ejected his sperm, leaving the eggs to scatter and settle in the water column.  This whole process took only five seconds.

Shooting back down into the coral, the eggs are left floating above.

Shooting back down into the coral

The female repeated this ritual with each of the male suitors, until just as quickly as it began, it was all over.

Remarkably, during the spawning season, the fish will repeat their mating dance each evening at dusk.  In this photographer’s opinion, they are the most beautiful and romantic fish in the sea.

Thank you to Brian Peterson, who shot this short video of the mandarin fish mating: